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John Eethune 

- by Rev e James MacKenzle 

For ho was a good man.,, and full 
of the Holy Ghost and of faith j 
and much peopie was added unto 
the Lord : Acts 11521). 

This could- surely be said 
of John Bethune , Ontario's pion- 
eer Presbyterian preacher e Ke 
was born on the misty Isle of 
Skye in 17!?1 s and raised in the 
Parish of Sleat under the minis- 
try of John MacPherson, of whom 
it is rightly written, "He was 
distinguished above all his 
contemporaries in the Highlands as a it 
Happy the lad with such a pastor, and 
a lad* John MacPherson and his son 9 
looked upon Bethune almost as a son an 
him into the Kingdom and service of Gc 
the importance of learning and truth, 
their example and continue his educati 


H e returned home from his studies to find the peo 
planning almost en-masse to leave their lovely island 
North Carolina, Their chief and his yes-men 
their people, and couldn't care less 
them but a source of revenue, and for this they had 
rents until rent exceeded income 

had losb 
Their clansmen 

With callous indiff 
poor were starved-outj forced to leave their homes, an 
of their fathers for 

generations beyond memory, and se 

new homes in a new land. "The best of the inhabitants 
wrote the celebrated Flora MacDonald on the twelfth of 

1772, "are making ready to follow their friends to A me 
they have anything to bring there; and among the rest 
especially as we cannot promise ourselves but poverty 
ion„ We have hardly what will pay our creditors, 
let them have and begin the world anew in 

a othere cor 

pie of Skye 
and settle in. 
all touch with 
had become to 
ised their 
erence the 
d the homes 
t sail for 

(of Skye)," 

Augus t ; 

rica while 
we are tc go, 
and oppress- 
h we are to 
ner of it." 

In May of 1771 it was reported that "two-thousand emigrants 
are preparing for their departure from the Island of Skye . . 
they are all of the estate of Sir Alexander MacDonald (of Sleat) 
who may chance to be a proprietor x^ithout tenants-," 

Nor was it only the unskille d and poor who were planning to 
leave the island „ Among the two-thousand were ''a parochial 
preacher" and a "thoroughbred surgeon " The parochial preacher 
was John Bethune „ 

This group requested a grant of forty-thousand i 

tablish a colony, but the powers-that-were turne 


acres on which 
ed them down 
considered it unwise to encourage the emigration of 
substance and ' ability " Nevertheless, they were all 
in North Carolina by 177i| a 

ZtBtiSS* $oticotrc»< 

to es 
"persons of 


- 2 <~ 

John Bethune came over as early as 1773 as a licenttaie of 
the Church of Scotland, Fere , on MoLendon's Creek in what f.s 
now Moore County, he settled with his mother, Christian, and hia 
maternal grandparent s p Donald Campbell of Scalpay, and Donald's 
wife, Katherine, Three decadea earlier, old Donald had saved 
the Bonnie Prince from capb-.i.'-c? hut now he was a man of eighty 
summers, and the burden of support thus foil upon the shoulders 
of hi 3 young grandson e 

Only a few short years remained before the outbreak of the 
American War of Independence , but John Bethune spent them minis- 
tering to the Highland Scots all around him in their native 
Gaelic tongue,, and he organized the present-day Mount Carmel 
Presbyterian Church near Ellerbe The good people of this con- 
gregation still honor the memory of their first pastor, 

A letter he had written to a friend on the mainland just 
prior to his departure came to the attention of the Gaelic bard 
of Kintail, John MacRaO (Iain MacMhurchaidh ) , who was inspired 
by news of the good hunting and fishing to be found in the New 
World to write a song, '''Thainig litir bho Iain Peutan" (There 
came a letter from John Bethune) : 

There came a letter from John Bethune 

Which ha3 given joy to one who has not seen it. 

A few of my country people about to deparb to a land 

of plenty, 
Where we can find every kind of the most delightful 
hunting that could be seen, 

We shall find deer, buck and doe, 

With permission to take as many as we want „ . „ 

We shall get salmon and whiteflsh ? 

And gray fish if it will please us better . „ 

Let us go and charter a ship. 

Let us depart, all of us. 

For small is my esteem for a man of no courage <> 

This song persuaded an entire shipload of MacRaes, with a 
few MacK e nzie3 thrown In for luck, to come over and fish for 
salmon in McLendon's Creek, Some of these remained In North 
Carolina, and their descendants still occupy the land on which 
they settled, Others, United Empire Loyalists, later took up 
land in Glengarry s and their descendants still live there t The 
MacRaes who live in these two places are cousins, and share a 
common heritage 

Early in 1776, N rth Carolina Highlanders loyal to the King 
formed a regiment and started out for the coast "to join Gov- 
ernor Martin to get Arms and to Act under him until we had the 
opportunity of joining the Army at Bostcn " John Berbune went 
along as their Chaplain c Alas 5 they never made It I T^ey were 
intercepted at Moore's Creek by Americans who got tnere first 
set up a defensive position on the opposite side o^ the stres; 
removed the plank3 from the bridge , and greased the two log 
beams that remained,, Bethune and other officers were taken 
prisoner, and sent to Philadelphia for confinement „ 

1 ^ <■> 

- 3 - 

Fortunately j their imprisonment was not of long duration. 
October 17 y 1776, the Continental Congresa "resolved that 
prisoners from North Carolina be permitted to return to their 
families if the Convention of that State shall be of the opin- 
ion they may do so without danger to that or any of the United 
States, and in the meantime that bedding, blankets and other 
necessaries be furnished the gaoler by Mr Mease " 

To this the prisoners added their own plea and promise , in 
a letter bo the North Carolina Convention dated two weeks later 
October 31, 1776 : 

Gentlemen J After a long separation of eight months 
from our Families and Friends, We the undersubscribers , 
Prisoners of War from North Carolina now in Philadelphia 
Prison, think ourselves Justifiable at this period in 
applying to your Honours for permission to return to our 
Families, which indulgence we will promise on the Faith and 
Honour of Gentlemen not to abuse, by interfering in the 
present disputes, or aiding or assisting your Enemies by 
word, writing, or action 

This request we have already laid before Congress who 
are willing to grant it providing they have your approbation, 

Hoping therefore that you have no particular intention 
to distress us more than others you have treated with Indul- 
gence, we flatter ourselves that your determinations will 
prove no obstruction to our Enlargement on the above terms; 
and we have transmitted to you the enclosed Copy of the 
Resolve of Congress in our favor, which if you countenance; 
it will meet with the warmest acknowledgements of Gent 

Your most obedt a & humble serves (sixteen names, 
including that of John Bethune), 

This letter was accompanied by another, from William 
Hooper, North Carolina Delegate to the Continental Congress, 
who wrote in part, "their confinement, tho ' accompanied with 
every circumstance of humanity which the public!: security will 
admit of must however as the Winter advances become more irksome 
from a scarcity of cloathing an inconvenience which at this tin? 
it will be most difficult to beare c " 

Upon his release, Bethune made his way to Halifax, Nova 
Scotia, where he was made Chaplain to the First B a callian of The 
Royal Highland Emigrants, a unit made up primarily of Gaelic 
speaking Highlanders who had settled in that area, November 
23n 1773, because he was "in some distress for want of money," 
and in order to "ease his difficulties," he wr, s appointed 3 
Chaplain to the entire Regiment by Captain Alexander MacDonald, 
who described him as "a young man of very good character tho s 
a presbyterian " 

During his years in Nove Scotia he met, and married en 
September 30, 1782, Veronica W a dden, a native of Switzerland, 
and daughter of a professor at the University of Geneva-, 

-k - 

After the Peace, the Bethunes took up residence in Mon- 
treal, along with other United Empire - Loyalists „ "A man of' 
noble countenance j dignified presence, and engaging manners , 
as well as of a chivalrous spirit 3 he soon attracted to himself 
his fellow countrymen resident in Montreal and vicinity. As a 
loyalist who had suffered for his king and his native land,, he 
exercised groat Influence among the British portion of the citi- 
zens of all creeds „" These rallied to him as their leader, and 
he drew them together to form the first Presbyterian congrega- 
tion in the city, the St. Gabriel Street Church c Here he 
preached from March 12, 1786 until May 6, 1787, when he and 
his family moved to Upper Canada, 

While he was in Montreal, about 1781; or 1785, his mother, 
Christian Bethune, passed away down In Moore County, North 
Carolina,, Her minister son had not seen her since that day so 
long before he had marched away to war. 

Lack of support Is given as one reason for the Bethunes 
leaving Montreal, More basic to their decision was the lure of 
land r which was being granted to United Empire 'Loyalists In 
appreciation for their services during the War, A a a Chaplain, 
ranking with a Captain, John was entitled to three-thousand 
acres. They settled at Willlamstown, Glengarry County, and 
Bethune began his ministry to the Highlanders there, thus 
becoming the pioneer Presbyterian preacher in what Is now Ontar- 
io, A faithful and zealous evangelist and pastor, he soon 
organized churches, not only at Willlamstown, but also at 
Martintown, Summerstown, Cornwall and L e ncaster. 

Although for many years he suffered from a cough which 
"showed a weakness of the lungs," and which may have been 
brought on by his extended stay in Philadelphia, John Bethune 
was an untiring servant of his Lord and his people „ On a gray 
mare famed in story, he rode many miles east to Coteau in 
Lower Canada, west to Cornwall, and crossed the St, Lawrence 
River In summer by boat and in Winter on the Ice to Dundee, 
Quebec, When he was at home on a Sunday the church bell was 
rung at eight o'clock, and again at ten arid eleven, to remind 
his neighbors that it was the Sabbath Day, This custom is 
still observed at Willlamstown, 

The Bethunes never became encumbered much with this world' 
wealth, having had little more to live on than his half pay as 
a retired chaplain. Still, they managed to raise and launch 
a large family of six stalwart sons and three fine daughters, 
of whom any parents could be proud. 

Like the others, rhat first "meeting house" at Williams- 
town was a plain, unpretentious log building, sans flying 
buttresses, grinning gargoyles a nd lofty steeple. Could you 
see it today, you would say, "But it just doesn't look like a 
churchj" There was no organ or piano there, for the good 
people inside did not believe in using instrumental music in 
the worship of God, There were no hymnbooks. They didn't 
believe in hymns either. They sang only the Psalms of D a vid r 

- 5 - 

which "had long since been rendered in verse form and set to 
music. There was no carpet down the center aide, if there was 
a center aisle, and no -upholstered pulpit furniture. Neither 
were there pews as such, but only rough hewn planks resting on 
cedar blocks, But the Spirit and love of God were there, and 
this was enough for them. 

During the week the building was used a3 a school. 

It was Bethure who introduced to Ontario the Scottish 
custom of using Communion tokens. These were coins distributed 
by the Session to members deemed "worthy" to be served the 
Sacrament, and used as tickets of admission to the Lord's 
Supper Service, One of the old Bethune tokens dating back to 
179I). may still be seen in the collection of the United Theolo- 
gical College in Montreal,, 

On one occasion a dispute arose between pastor and people, 
and it was decided to submit the matter to Bishop Alexander 
MacDonnell,, their respected Roman Catholic neighbor at nearby 
St, Raphael's, After hearing both sides the good man ruled as 
he probably Intended to all along, in favor of his Protestant 
counterpart, and lectured the Presbyterian congregation on the 
duty of respect and obedience in the Lord they owed to their 
ecclesiastical superior ', Fortunately, the members of the congr^ 
gation were good sports. They received the admonition with 
becoming humility, and the breach was healed, 

'Lord Selkirk stopped by at the manse Sunday, January 22, 
I80I4., In his diary he describes Bethune as "a worthy character 
by all accounts - & of so much influence with the people that 
his Son in law, Wilkinson, tho ' English, is expected to be a 
candidate for the county." 

The patriotic concerns of his youth returned to occupy 
John Bethune again at the other end of his life. H e and Bishop 
MacDonnell were with Red George MacDonnell when he crossed 'the 
ice to capture Ogdensburg, New York during the War of l8l2. 
Again, his name is second on the list of the loyal address 
presented to Lt, General Sir Gordon Drummond, President of the 
Province of Upper Canada on the twenty-first of D e cember, l8ll|., 
Only the name of Bishop MacDonnell preceded his. 

Up until the very end of his long and useful career,' 
Bethune managed to stay busy in the business of his Lord, A 
letter from him to Mr. James Reid of St.Amand, Lower Canada, 
dated at Williams town, 20th April. I81I4., deals with the pro- 
blems of raising 'funds to pay for the meeting house at 
McMartin's Mills," This letter was in response to a letter frot 
Reid, to whom the money was owed, and who had written requesting 
payment. Bethune assured him that his letter was "without loss 
of time laid before the Trustees; and on your account, as well 
as ■ on that of the congregation, I am happy to inform you tha^ 
the money is now In a fair way of being speedily paidj." 

Another letter, dated at Williamstown, September 16, l8l£ 
reveals his declining health and his continuing concern for 

•» 6 •» 
hla people : 

To the members of the Presbyterian Congregation at Will lama town., 
and of the other eongrs gat lens connected with them In Glengarry - 

To my dear Friends and Brethren: - 

My state of health Is so precarious, and I am so advanced in life, 
that I cannot reasonably promise to myself many more days, let 
the event of my present indisposition be ever so favourable. 

For severa 1 years past I have had many anxious thoughts about 
the destitute state in which you mu3t be left when it should 
please God to call me away, but I forebore saying anything on the 
subject, under the impression that my declining years and grow- 
ing infirmities would necessarily point out to yourselves the 
propriety of engaging a Minister, who might, in the first in- 
stance, be an assistant and do such parts of the duty as were 
above my strength, and who, to diminish a3 much as possible his 
expense to the congregation, might extend his service further 
than the present limits, and finally succeed to the whole charge. 

But in this expectation I have been disappointed. There Is to 
this hour no more thought of providing a Minister than there was 
twenty years ago, and there is as great an apathy respecting this 
essential measure as if it were certain I should outlive the 
whole congregation. In this state of things I consider it a duty 
I owe you to lift up my feeble voice In this manner, and warn you 
of the pernicious consequences to yourselves, and your families, 
of your lukewarmness in this serious business. After my decease 
you will have recourse to a priest of the Church of Rome to bap- 
tize your children, nay, some will have marriage solemnized by 
him, though at fhe expense of changing their religion, rather 
than be disappointed or be at the trouble of employing the 
English Clergyman at Cornwall 

In this state of destitution, the Catholic Church will make a 
plentiful harvest from amongst you, Y ou cannot be ignorant of 
the arts and circumventions of that church on all occasions to 
make Proselytes,. You must therefore be sensible that their art3 
will be exerted to the utmost, when such favorable circumstances 
as I have mentioned combine to give them effect. 

All things considered, I do not blame the zeal of the communion. 
Did I believe that all religious denominations except my own 
shall finally be doomed , I would strain every nerve to rescue as 
many unfortunate wretches a3 I could, out of the fire, and place 
them In safety within the sacred sanctuary of my own church. 
This Tenet of e xcluding all except her own members from the hap- 
piness of a future life, by which she expects to bully others 
Into her communion, is the most presumptuous and unchristian of 
all the religious principles of the Church of Rome. 

People might venerate or worship Images; they might pray for the 
interest of saints and angels with the great Redeemer of the 
world; take bread and wine for flesh and blood; and give a pass- 
port of oil and holy water to the departing, without exciting 
more than pity of other denominations; but when they presume to 

.. 7 - 

hold the keys of Hell and Heaven, and to debar us from the eternal 
favor and mercy of God { because we do not practise the same ab3ur~ 
ditiea, and believe the same contradictions, It rouses our Indigna- 
tion; and never can there be love and friendship in any civil 
society, so long as this detestable Tenet is believed by a great 
number of its members 

As you value your present and future happiness, avoid the snares of 
this arrogant communion, who, believing themselves the exclusive 
favorites of Heaven, must of course think themselves a superior 
order of Beings on earth. Love them personally, and do them all 
those good and kind offices which Christianity commands, and the 
state of society requires, but fleo from their principles as from 
the fang of serpents. They administer a 3weet poison to the soulj 
by holding out a cure for every vice and a pardon for every crime. 
To avoid the delusions of this communion there is no effectual 
measure under Providence, except having a Pastor to watch the fold 
who will not only prevent the Flock from straying, but do away with 
the pretence of employing a priest to baptise and marry. 

Add to this the moral and religious instructions which will not 
only be kept alive among you, but Inculcated with stronger effect 
and more permanent benefit the longer it is continued, and the keep- 
ing up the observance of every other ordinance to which you have 
been accustomed, and you must anticipate a vacancy of any length as 
a gloomy, uncomfortable period, irksome to your minds and dangerous 
to your morals. Bestir yourselves, therefore, to take measures of 
precaution, and let not a miserable parsimony persuade you to 
shrink back from the attainment of an object so essential to your 
well-being, in that state where money has neither value nor curren- 
cy. Y ou must allow that the blessings of Providence have prosper- 
ed your industry, and that events calamatous to many others have 
been beneficial to you. No excuse can therefore be sustained from 
want of means. The only real want there can be is the want of ■"**•. 
will. In every community of any extent some will be poor and dis- 
tressed, without any apparent faults o^ their own. Among you the 
number of such persons is small, and if it were greater, the more 
wealthy must, in every public business, fill up the deficiency, for 
under all good governments and salutary institutions the rich always 
pay for the poor, and they have reason to bless God that they are 
able to do it. Speaking of poverty, I would call to your attention 
a circumstance which In future arrangement must be considered. 

In the congregation at Williamstown, all its members are charged 
a like to make up the Minister's salary, without regard to any 
difference of circumstances or ability to pay; the consequence I 
that some distressed people cannot gratify their own wishes, and 
the Minister loses the amount, there being no provision made for 
supplying the loss. 

Casualties of fire and other calamities which call for public 
assistance affect the Minister's income in the same manner. You 
will say that in such cases the Minister is under the same obliga- 
tion with other men to assist the unfortunate. True; but this do- 
nation, like that of every other person, ought to be voluntary; it 
should be just what he thinks properj which in sinking so much of 


- 8 - 

his salary is not the case, and after a year or two he must allow 
the name deduction, the Sufferer is not sensible perhaps that he rr. 
has received anything from him unless something be given over and 
above, to relieve the present necessity,, 

In making provision for a Minister, you are not to forget that he 
will have no half pay, but I think it probable that the Provincial 
salary will be continued to him, ^rom what I have observed of the 
danger of a long vacancy, I hope you will see the necessity of 
early exertion In so important a matter as I have been urging on 
your consideration. The article which many of you have signed and, 
were better If you all had signed, points out distinctly what sort 
of character your Clergyman Is expected to be. All that Is nec- 
essary to add on that part of the subject is that a young and sin- 
gle man is most suitable, and that he may receive ordination from 
the Presbytery of Montreal, If not previously ordained at home, 
which Is not probable 

In taking measures for procuring such a person, the other members 
of the Presbytery of Montreal, beine low country gentlemen, can 
be of no further assistance than giving the sanction of their 
authority to such of your proceedings as may require the same. 
But there are private gentlemen in Lower Canada who are acquainted 
with Clergymen in Ross and Inverness-shire, and will gladly give 
you every assistance in their power, if you apply to them. But I 
must repeat that without timely and vigorous exertion on your part 
the matter will languish away in useless talk, a fault very common 
in all your public transactions. The cause of this absurdity is 
that in your public meetings no rules of order are ever laid down. 
Every person, therefore , speaks when he pleases, and a number of 
mouths are open at onoe, each striving to vociferate over the 
other for attention. Let this disgraceful practice be laid aside. 
Appoint a president and vice-president at your meetings, to 
observe order, and particularly to allow only one person to speak 
at a time, and then something will be done. In a very weak state 
of body I have thus given you my best advice, and imperfect as it 
Is, I trust you will listen to it. Whether it shall be the last 
I shall be able to give is best known to Him who hold.3 our destiny t 
It is given in the spirit of true sincerity, and of the purest 
regard for your everlasting interest. And that the God of all 
goodness and wisdom may guide and strengthen you, in conduction 
with effect and despatch, what so nearly affects your welfare, 
and finally receive you Into the arms of His everlasting love, 
is the sincere prayer, my dear friends and brethren of your 

Affectionate and faithful servant, 
John Bet nun e 

John Bethune understood his congregation, and he made very 
certain that they understood him J 

' , 


Just a week later, September 23, l8l5, he went to be with 
his Lord, Whom he had loved and served so long and so well P and 
the Montreal Gazette memorialized him as "a man remarkable for 
the agreeableness of his manners, but in no time deficient in 
that spirit which is requisite for the support of a Christian 
and a gentleman. He understood what was due to 'the powers that 
be, '' "without losing sight of the respect which was due to him- 
self o H s has left a widow a v '.d numerous family, but the place 
they hold in society will show that as a husband and father he 
must be remembered among those who have dcr.^ their duty well." 

Bethune kept complete records of births 9 'baptisms, and wed- 
dings. While in C-lengarry he baptized' some 2 P 379 persons. Dur- 
ing his entire ministry he ba ptized 2.576,, some of these being 
Negro slaves „ This is an almost unbelievable average of more 
than one each weekj 

Alas, there aeena to be no record of his ordination, if, 
indeed, he ever was formally ordained. According to Scottish 
records, he emigrated as a licentiato. There is no record he 
was ordained while in Carolina, and it would have been imposs- 
ible for him to have been ordained at that time in Nova Scotia 
or Quebec, Neither was there a presbytery in Ontario until 
many years after he settled there - year3 in which he kept busy 
organizing churches, and baptizing and marrying people all over 
the place. Never mind, presbytery or no presbytery, he was ' 
chosen and ordained of God, and this is of first importance, 

H e is'buried in the churchyard at Williamstown. But he, 
being dead, yet speaketh, In later years a monument ' to his mem- 
ory was erected by his six sons. Angus, Norman, John,, ' James, 
Alexander and Donald, On one side they had inscribed, "Sacred 
to the memory of the Rev, Jno. Bethune r Pastor of the congrega- 
tion of the Kirk of Scotland in Glengarry, He departed this 
life at Williamstown on the 23rd of September, l8l5, in the 
66th year of his life and the of his ministry," 

On the opposite side we read : 

"That he was a faithful steward, the peace and happiness of his 
flock are the most certain proof. 

That he wag eminently endeared by those conciliating endearing 
qualities which united society in the closest bonds of unanim- 
ity and friendship, his numerous congregation, who shed the tri- 
bute of unfeigned sorrow over his grave, have borne the most 
honorable testimony. 

That he was open, generous and sincere, those x^rho participated 
in his friendship can afford the most satisfactory evidence. 

That he was a kind and affectionate husband, a tender and 
indulgent parent, the love and unanimity 'of his numerous 
family furnish the most undeniable proof," 

- 10 - 

Source Materials : 

The Archives of Ontario Special thanks to Mr. 

77 Grenville Street, Queen's Park Hugh MacMillan in the 
Toronto, M7A 1C7, Ontario, Canada Ontario Archives Department 

North Carolina Department of Archives and History 
Raleigh, North Carolina 

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, by Hew Scott 

Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1928; Volume 7, pages 626-627 

A Hiatory of the Scotch Presbyterian Church St. Gabriel Street, 

Montreal, by Robert Campbell, M. A., pastor 

Montreal, W. Drysdale and Sons, 1887. 

I have placed a copy of this in N. C, Presbyterian Synod's Office 

Another copy is at The Historical Foundation, Montreat 

Contains a picture of Bethune. 

Colonial Records of North Carolina 
Published by the Department of Archives and History 
Volume X, 600, 888-889 
XI, 295 

For John MacRae, see the article by the author of this sketch, 
The Odyssey of John MacRae 
State Magazine, Raleigh, N. C. 
Volume 39, 'Number 13, December 1, 1971 
Pages 8, 9, 10 and 32; contains list of references. 

Colonists from Scotland : 

Emigration to North America, 1707-1783 

by Ian Charles C a rgill Graham 

Published for the American Historical Association 

Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York 1956 

Correspondence with some very gracious and helpful people in 
Glengarry, including 

Mr. Keith Mcintosh 

Mrs. Edna M a c Mi 11 an 

Mrs. Elizabeth Blair (now of Toronto) 

These dear people have gone out of their way to be of help, 
copying page after page of historical material, sending me 
clippings from time to time, and giving me additional leads. 
Just about all the material about Bethune's C a nadian ministry 
in this paper comes from them, directly or indirectly. I only 
wish "I could repay them for all of their patience and encourage- 
ment. Still, I feel that theirs was a labor of love, as is mine, 
and the knowledge that this is being done to keep alilve the 
memory 'of John Bethune, God's choice servant, will be payment 



DEMC O 38-297